New Delhi: For 13 years, Nikhil Chandra Mondal languished in jail for an extra-judicial confession that was considered trustworthy to charge him for the murder of his wife.
The prosecution theory of extra-judicial confession haunted Mondal, now aged about 64, for 40 years as he battled with the law to prove his innocence.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ordered his release, saying: “It is a settled principle of law that extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence.”
A bench comprising justices B.R. Gavai and Sanjay Karol said: “It has been held that where an extra-judicial confession is surrounded by suspicious circumstances, its credibility becomes doubtful and it loses its importance.”
Advocate Rukhsana Choudhury, representing Mondal, vehemently argued that the Calcutta High Court has grossly erred in reversing the well-reasoned judgment and order of acquittal passed by the trial court.
She submitted that the finding of the trial court disbelieving the extra-judicial confession alleged to have been made to three witnesses could not be said either to be perverse or illegal and sought setting aside of the high court judgment.
The West Bengal government contested Mondals’ defence saying that the High Court, has rightly found that the extra-judicial confession made before witnesses was trustworthy, reliable, and cogent.
According to Choudhury, since his arrest after the killing of his wife and following his conviction by the high court in 2008, he has spent more than 13 years in prison.
The bench observed that it is a settled principle of law that however strong a suspicion may be, it cannot take the place of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
It further added that it is well-settled that it is a rule of caution where the court would generally look for independent, reliable corroboration before placing any reliance upon such extra-judicial confession.
“It has been held that there is no doubt that conviction can be based on an extra-judicial confession, but in the very nature of things, it is a weak piece of evidence,” said the bench.
Mondal moved the apex court in 2010 against his conviction and sentence. The prosecution case rested on the extrajudicial confession alleged to have been made by Mondal before three of his fellow villagers, who were made prosecution witnesses by the police.
The top court said the high court judgment, passed in December 2008, on the government’s appeal convicting the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC is quashed and set aside.
Citing a 1984 verdict, the bench said it can be seen that this court has held that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
The top court said: “It has been held that the circumstances concerned ‘must or should’ and not ‘may be’ established. It has been held that there is not only a grammatical but a legal distinction between ‘may be proved’ and ‘must be or should be proved’. It has been held that the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused… they should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty.”
The bench noted that it has been held that the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency and they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one sought to be proved.
“There must be a chain of evidence so complete so as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused,” the bench added.
The murder was allegedly committed in March 1983 in Burdwan district of West Bengal. The trial court decided the case in March 1987, acquitting Mondal, who was charged with allegedly killing his wife.